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Music Symbols Explained

Music Symbols Explained
Resource added: 02 December 2022

Want to help your students remember the meaning behind some of the key elements of music notation?

Download our FREE poster to display in your classroom!

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The poster features:

Treble Clef and Bass Clef

A clef is a musical symbol that tells us which notes are represented by the lines and spaces on a stave.

The treble clef is the most commonly used clef in modern music and is generally the first that students learn.

Instruments that use the treble clef include violin, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, recorder and guitar.

The bass clef is for lower parts and so is used for cello, double bass, bass guitar, trombone and tuba, among others.


The dynamics tell us the variation in loudness between notes or phrases.

The two most basic dynamic indications are 'piano', which means quiet, and 'forte', which means loud or strong. These are usually noted by a 'p' or 'f', respectively.

Adding an 'm' in front gives you 'mp' (mezzo-piano, or moderately quiet) or 'mf' (mezzo-forte, or moderately loud).

You may see two or three consecutive 'p's or 'f's - this means very or very, very quiet or loud, respectively.


The placement of notes on the stave tells us which note letter to play, as well as how long to play it.

Stave or staff

The stave (also known as the staff in US English) is the name given to the 5 lines and 4 spaces that each represent a different musical pitch. Music symbols are placed on the stave, so that the musician knows which notes to play, how long to hold them for, how loudly etc.

Time signature

The time signature sits next to the clef and tells you how many beats are contained in each bar and which note value is equivalent to one beat.


A single bar on the stave shows how the music is divided into measures. A double bar indicates the end of a piece of music.


Rests are as important as the notes and have their own symbols to show how many beats the rest should be held for.

We hope this poster is helpful! For more resources like this, please see the resources section of our website.